Marvel Studios seems to know what they're doing. In order to make the ultimate superhero film, they've spent years upon years making numerous films, gradually building up momentum for the upcoming 'The Avengers,' a film that would be utterly impossible to make without establishing its stars, its roster, in their own origin stories, building fan anticipation in the process. In this lengthy build-up, we've seen an improvement on the formula in 'The Incredible Hulk,' a game changer in 'Iron Man,' and, most amazingly, a 'Thor' film that was not only relatable but damned entertaining. We met Hawkeye and the Black Widow in recent adventures, as well, and many a time now Samuel L. Jackson has popped in with a signature eyepatch as the leader of the bunch, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But, one piece has been missing, perhaps the most crucial to the team. Ironically, one of the very first Marvel superheroes proved to be the last introduced in this new series of comic adaptations.
In 1941, a mere two years after the official debut of Marvel Comics and its first two heroes, the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner, a third hero would step into the spotlight, a national hero, an embodiment of the American culture amidst the backdrop of a world in crisis, with an amazing statement from the get go, his first cover being a picture of the hero punching Adolf Hitler square in the face. Leading American troops into battle against Axis foes, the fictional character proved to be an amazing piece of propaganda, but when the war ended, so too did the popularity of the character. Cue the Silver Age of comic books, and suddenly ol' Stars and Stripes had a place in the comic world yet again, and has been in print ever since (with a few minor hiccups due to the change in series from time to time), closing in on fifty consecutive years, including a recent spike in public attention due to...you guessed it, the "death" of the character.
The American soldier with the unbreakable vibranium shield has been adapted to film before, as early as 1944 in serial form, in a Turkish bootleg film that has to be seen to be believed, again in 1990 in a version considered buried, and a few times in full length animated features, but it took until 2011 for ol' Steve Rogers to finally get the film he deserves, a movie that acts as a tribute to an American icon's place in history, glorifying and praising the bravery of soldiers in an era where such actions seem almost politically incorrect, as perverse as that may seem. With 'Captain America: The First Avenger,' directed by Joe Johnston ('The Rocketeer,' 'Jumanji'), we're taken in a time portal to another age, thrust in the middle of World War II, and imbued with a sense of patriotism long seemed forgotten.
This film is an interesting one, as it crams what could be two entire features into one cohesive unit, as we not only get the origin story of the character, but also a testament to his WWII heroics, in full. We meet Rogers (Chris Evans, who has now played two of the three oldest Marvel superheroes) when the man is nothing more than a ninety point asthmatic trying time and again to be accepted into the service, so that he can serve his country any way possible. The wimp, compared to a gerbil, is hardly soldier material, but his heart and selflessness catch the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who has been working on a serum to create the ultimate fighter. Though thrown against a number of superior soldiers, none show the bravery or humanity that the runt does, and soon he's the first, and tragically last, American changed into the ultimate soldier.
After being forced into the public spotlight selling war bonds in a silly (and recognizable) suit, Rogers finds himself in a show in Italy, playing to an audience who recently lost a large number of men to HYDRA, the Nazi deep science program, led by the villainous Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). Rather than standing back and letting others take on all the risk, Rogers leads a daring rescue of the captured soldiers, and finds himself instantly a hero to all enlisted men. With his amazing strength, speed, and intelligence, Rogers proudly wears the monicker of Captain America, rallying the troops to victory after victory against the powerful HYDRA forces, but Schmidt's ultimate plan, and secret history, prove he's the ultimate match to Rogers' bravery.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' is, easily, the best Marvel film since 'Iron Man,' often times coming close to being on par with that big change in tone from the often pulpy company. There's damn near everything here that a comic and movie fan could ask for. The origin story is given the perfect amount of time to develop, as we come to love the scrawny wimp with a heart bigger than his body, and come to understand the characters and world we're seeing. After the fastest thirty minutes of film you'll ever see, we then get to meet the super soldier, and time flies by. The script seems inspired by the recent HBO war mini-series, as we see an attention to detail often left to montage, where the other aspects of war and heroism are shown, and we see the selfless side of the man doing his part in the effort, despite wanting to be on the front lines. There's no whining, no griping, this man embodies American pride and dignity, and it's an act that doesn't grow old. It's rather intoxicating, honestly.
Once the real action of the film begins, as cliche as it sounds, the film is an non-stop action packed thrill ride, showing the heroics of the man and his trusty shield in a number of ways, as an inspiration to those around him, and as the super soldier he was meant to be, and then some. We get a great mixture of montage and drawn out, elaborate battles, which endear the character, and draw his quest closer to heart, before going for the big finish, as the icons for America and Nazi Germany have their final battle, and the suspense doesn't let up. This film grabs you and doesn't let go, with a great blend of humanity and country pushing the time right on along.
Of course, the film does have areas it could have improved upon. With the false opening in modern times, even non-comic fans know of the man's fate, taking away some of the suspense, especially with the final battle. The other issue is the lack of time developing the relationship between the boy no woman wanted, who now could have any woman he desires, and the woman who is enamored with him for more than his physique, Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell). Since we know any love story will be ultimately tragic, as predictable as it could have been, the emotion that could have been in their final moments would have been really something had it been given more fleshing out.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' has a Bond-like villain in the Red Skull, even if Weaving sounds like nothing more than Hugo Weaving doing a bad German accent, and the evil he embodies almost makes up for the way he pulls you out of the film. His lackey, played by Toby Jones, is a great bit of casting, while Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips gets all the best lines, and damn if they aren't delivered expertly. The other godsend of this film is Dominic Cooper, playing Howard Stark (yep, Tony's dad), and we get to see a man who shows the future is doomed to repeat itself, with his mixture of genius and excessive pride and showmanship. It's really rather fun, but then again, almost every element of 'Captain America' is fun. This is a great film, not just a great comic book movie. It's a great human story, and perhaps the best action film of 2011, taking a page out of 'Hellboy's book with the new twist on the Nazi obsession with the occult. Marvel, take a bow.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Paramount brings 'Captain America: The First Avenger' to Blu-ray in two editions, this 2D version (on a BD50 disc) and a limited edition 3D set. The 2D package comes with a DVD/Digital Copy combo disc, same as the 3D set, just sans that extra Blu-ray 3D. Paramount raised some eyebrows when this set was first announced due to the MSRP, but with retailers selling this title at around 50 percent off list in its week of release, that situation has been remedied.
There is no pre-menu content, and the menu itself is a classy full motion video/audio loop.
Stay tuned after the credits for a sneak peek at 'The Avengers.' When I say sneak peek, I mean it, as there's less than twenty seconds more of Captain America and Nick Fury, then a glorified trailer for the upcoming Joss Whedon film. Of all the "hidden" scenes in these movies, this is the most shameful and least worthy of wasting a few minutes to get to.
Presented in 1080p with the AVC MPEG-4 encoder, 'Captain America' proves to be high-def candy on Blu-ray.
This disc sports perfect edges, wonderfully clear, powerful colors, and detail levels that truly shine. Funnily enough, the best looking moment in the film is one of the most mundane, in the soldier training segments, full of amazingly defined grass and dirt. Picture depth is often incredible, with a number of scenes exhibiting nearly endless information and clarity. Textures are a real treat, as well, while night shots hold up very well, with no lost information in shadows. Another plus? This disc is free from any kind of edge enhancement, while facial features can be very perceptible. Black levels? There's not enough ink in all the stationary stores in the world to compare to this.
This transfer does have an odd noise burst here or there, a very ugly sequence in the theater where every eye visible is blatantly blue, and a few moments that look like facial features have been smoothed out just too darned much, enough to keep this disc from earning that rare five star commendation. Still, this disc is worthy of salutations. It's really, really good looking.
The audio for this flick is presented by way of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that comes up a bit short compared to some of the other Marvel flicks (particularly 'The Incredible Hulk'), but it still has plenty to offer.
Dialogue doesn't get buried for a single word in the entire film, while range will frequently catch your attention with the blistering highs. This disc sports some solid volume spikes, and some good thumps and bumps, as well as gunfire pops, while rear speakers get more than their fair share of activity, particularly in action sequences, which throw you in the middle of a WWII battle like few other discs do, with gunfire coming from all angles nicely. Ambience is appropriate in every scene, while directionality is also spot on. The only place this track is lacking is in thunder, as the bass levels just don't match the carnage we see on screen. With the massive explosions filling this film, you'd expect a lot of rumble and roar, but it just doesn't happen anywhere near as much as it should. If you listen to this disc through your television's speakers, you just lost half of the experience, as this track is exactly that: an experience.
It's a shame the bonus DVD/Digital Copy disc may very well be the highlight of this supplement package
Marvel Comics films aren't always great adaptations. Sometimes we get a great tale that's true to the comics and still works well on screen, and other times we get... the 'Fantastic Four' movies. 'Captain America: The First Avenger' is among the best adaptations from the company so far. It has heart, soul, and tons of action, with some intelligence and fantasy to boot. This is the kind of film that will appeal to audiences of all ages, with a timeless tale, a relatable hero that's impossible to dislike, and a great, great performance in the lead. Sure, I didn't buy the voice coming out of the scrawny version of the character, but come on, the effects work to make wimpy Steve Rogers is fantastic! And so is this disc. It's awesomeness, forever captured for audiences to enjoy over and over again. This is the year's best comic movie, probably the best action movie, as well, and one of the top five to ten comic book adaptations. Whether you go 2D or 3D (which still includes this 2D disc), either way, put this one in your collection, post haste.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.